Legislators tackle microgrids, net metering cap hike, carbon pricing and more

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CONCORD, N.H. – The New Hampshire House of Representatives Committee on Science, Technology and Energy had a packed slate on Monday. Here’s what they worked on.

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Keith Ammon (R-New Boston) on Feb. 13, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 558

This bill creates “microgrids,” or localized electrical grids designed to help make the state’s overall electrical grid more resilient from blackouts.

Keith Ammon (R-New Boston) provided an overview of the legal framework that would be created to allow for microgrid zones and their connection with the overall electrical grid.

In response to a question from Tom Cormen (D-Lebanon), Ammon said the County Commissions are the first elected body to deal with microgrid proposals due to their local knowledge, with the commissions then representing the proposals to the state Department of Energy.

Cormen later expressed concerns about ambiguity about connections between microgrids and larger grids run by utility companies.

Chris Muns (D-Hampton) asked why there were limitations on the size of microgrids and prohibitions to multi-county microgrids in the bill. Ammon said the size limitation was intended to make sure there are not too many microgrids coming online at once, which could be destabilizing to the overall power grid. The prohibition on multi-county grids was meant to aid county commissions during the application process.

Other supporters of the bill felt that it would help lower energy prices by creating new energy producers, leading to more jobs and new businesses. Recent technological advancements have also made microgrids more economically feasible and infrastructurally self-sufficient.

There was also interest from representatives of the bitcoin mining industry, who felt that this concept would help bitcoin mining operations from overtaxing the overall electrical grid. In response to a question from Ned Reynolds (D-Portsmouth), one bitcoin mining operator predicted that nuclear waste could be used as an energy generation source for microgrids in the North Country.

Griffin Roberge of the New Hampshire Department of Energy said that his department is neutral on the bill, and would welcome additional discussion with the bill’s sponsors on its intent and is concerned that while it might fit well in other states where it has already been implemented, it may not fit into how New Hampshire’s electrical grid is set up now.

There were also concerns from other representatives about how this would impact current net metering laws. Sam Evans Brown of Clean Energy NH explained that microgrids differed from group net metering efforts through their ability to “island” from larger electrical grids and their ability to use a wider array of energy generation sources.

Online testimony had 45 supporters to this bill with one person opposed at the time of the public hearing.

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Jeannine Notter (R-Merrimack) on Feb., 13, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 372

This bill establishes a commission to study carbon-pricing mechanism and its potential impact on New Hampshire.

Tony Caplan (D-Henniker), one of the bill’s sponsors, said that carbon-pricing is a tool to help level the playing field for energy production sources, showing the hidden costs to society of energy sources with high carbon production such as the $60 billion impact to the country’s healthcare costs.

Jeannine Notter (R-Merrimack) asked how much carbon pricing would lower emissions, which Caplan could not provide an exact number for, only saying that experts believe it would help consumers make rational decisions on true costs of energy. Notter said she has heard from expert sources that it would lower the prices of renewable energy sources by .002 percent. However, a representative from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services said that RGGI, a regional carbon pricing initiative responded to a question from Reynolds saying that the impact on prices was closer to 50 percent, but that was largely from switching from coal and oil to natural gas.

Supporters of the bill also expressed concern about economic disadvantages of not participating in carbon pricing initiatives like RGGI given that all nearby states participate in it and they have to pay costs related to RGGI from energy generated from other states without receiving ancillary benefits those other states receive. There were also concerns about adjustments from foreign export CBAMs, without carbon pricing framework in place nationally, with 38 New Hampshire towns already supporting carbon pricing resolutions at town meetings according to testimony on the bill.

However, there were concerns over industries that may have to transition due to carbon pricing changes, such with lobster vessels.

James Summers (R-Newton) expressed concern that any modifications to energy prices related to carbon pricing would not benefit energy rate payers, but rather benefit infrastructural improvements for utilities.

Online testimony to this bill had 171 in favor and none opposed at the time of the public hearing.

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Tom Cormen (D-Lebanon) on Feb. 13, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 509

This bill aims to phase out the minimum electric renewable portfolio standard.

Bill sponsor Michael Harrington (R-Strafford) asked that the bill be retained since there are several similar bills and he felt that they should be merged. ‘

Several individuals spoke in opposition to the bill regardless, requesting that the minimum electric renewable portfolio be expanded rather than phased out.

Cormen asked a question regarding the stability of wind prices given the fluctuation of when wind turbines can function and was told that the costs for wind generation are very marginal.

Online testimony on the bill at the time of the public hearing had two people supporting it, 109 people in opposition, and one neutral person.

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Lucius Parshall (D-Marlborough) on Feb. 13, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 523

This bill looks to encourage and encourage consumer contributions to the electrical grid by raising net metering caps beyond one megawatt to 4.99 megawatts.

Net metering is the process where electricity consumers actually produce energy for the greater electrical grid.

Lucius Parshall (D-Marlborough) said that this bill would help lower costs and increase grid resiliency.

Office of the Consumer Advocate Donald Kreis said that legally referring to net metering as a load reducer is a valuable benefit of the bill, and that emphasizing the load reduction benefits of net metering to lowering energy costs.

Kreis said that most residential customers are not likely to produce more than one megawatt of net metered energy into the grid, and that the Public Utility Commission can be trusted to properly price any energy beyond the current cap.

Wendy Thomas (D-Merrimack) asked why the one megawatt cap was put into place to begin with. Kreis was unsure, but provided a brief history of the accidental invention of net metering and added that most regulation regarding net metering has been iterative as public officials and utilities have sought to accommodate net metering without it overloading the grid.

Roberge said that the Department of Energy opposes the bill, indicating that it would be a sizable change to current net metering laws and that the Public Utility Commission process with related regulatory decisions be allowed to be determined first.

Muns asked if this would help microgrids. Roberge was unsure, but it possibly could help those microgrids.

Other testimony indicated that some businesses might be able to retain workers if they could lower their operating costs through infrastructural improvements that would allow them to build energy production arrays up to 4.99 megawatts.

At the time of the public hearing, online testimony indicated 65 people in support and two people in opposition.

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Chris Muns (D-Hampton) on Feb. 13, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 524

This bill adjusts energy efficient rebates and creates new investment funding for local government energy efficiency projects, effectively tripling RGGI auction proceeds into the energy efficiency fund taken from RGGI carbon credit auctions.

A comparable, but more extreme, version of the bill is also being considered by the legislature.

On behalf of Kat McGhee (D-Hollis), Muns said that this bill balances efforts to help electricity rate payers while also helping save money in the future and lower carbon emissions, fearing that no action could result in more energy rate hikes.

Representatives from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and New Hampshire Department of Energy said their departments are neutral on the bill.

At the time of the public hearing, there were 47 people in favor of this bill and one opposed.

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Wendy Thomas (D-Merrimack) on Feb. 13, 2013. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

HB 233

This bill redefines “useful thermal energy,” looking to help residential rate payers qualify for renewable energy credits or RECs, especially people owning wood burning stoves. Currently the metering devices needed to identify thermal forms of energy that might be eligible for RECs is not cost effective for residential rate payers.

The bill does not guarantee residential rate payers access to RECs, only the ability to apply for them without the meters, which can cost $5,000, and that they can provide alternative data collection about their energy output in lieu of the meters.

Vose, the sponsor of this bill, said that increasing access to RECs would help the wood harvesting industry in New Hampshire as well. Other individuals in support of the bill said that providing a stronger market for wood-based fuel would help make forests more resilient increasing the need for timber and the demand for less desirable trees that are more resource intensive but also less valuable for timber and thus not often harvested currently.

Representatives of the New Hampshire Department of Energy were neutral on this bill, but noted that there is a lack of Thermal RECs available on the market to rate payers, and that there should be different rules for individuals with stoves of less than 1,000,000 BTUs or less, leaving current language in place for organizations with devices that burn more than 1,000,000 BTUs and can afford related meters needed for RECs.

However, there are concerns that modification to the REC approval process could have unforeseen ripple effects across the state’s energy market.

Online at the time of this hearing, there were 50 people supporting the bill with one opposed.

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Doug Thomas (R-Londonderry) on Feb. 13, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Executive Session

HB 175

This bill modifies a state law that now requires state departments to identify ways to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 25 percent by 2025 and instead asks state departments to identify ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2025.

A motion to retain was made, with Rebecca McWilliams (D-Concord) saying further study could strengthen the bill. The motion passed 18-0.

HB 176

This bill amends certain rules for the state’s power plant site evaluation committee.

A motion was made to retain the bill. McWilliams also said that there was possibility to make this bill stronger as well. Vose added that an upcoming bill next week could provide insight on this bill as well.

HB 208

This bill looks to establish greenhouse gas emission goals for the state in the hopes of stemming climate change.

A decision on this bill was postponed until Friday.

HB 298

This bill addresses structural standards for cell phone towers.

New Hampshire to date is the first state in the nation to commission a study on the health risks of 5G cell phone towers, and this bill allows municipalities to require any 5G antennae located on a public right-of-way or new cellular phone attennae of any type be set back 500 meters from residences, businesses and schools  unless all residences, businesses and schools agree to waive this restriction.

During the public hearing on the bill, 154 people supported the bill, 1 person opposed it and another person accidentally opposed it.

A decision on this bill was postponed until Thursday.

About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.